Law enforcement is more than just a concept. It’s a crucial part of our society. Police officers and state troopers prevent, detect and investigate crime, and apprehend criminals in neighborhoods like yours all across the country, so there’s no denying their importance.
Law enforcement is carried out by patrol officers—those men and women who protect and serve in our communities—all the way up to detectives and FBI agents. But no matter what their job title, they all share one goal: protecting us from harm and pursuing wrongdoers.
This is a great job for people who want to make a difference. And one of the best ways to prepare, especially if you plan on working up the chain of command, is to get a degree in criminal justice or a law enforcement degree online.
What They Do
Most police officers patrol their cities and towns, and investigate suspicious activity.
They warn, cite or arrest people who break the law. They respond to emergency calls and may give first aid since they’re often the first responders at accidents.
Police officers also conduct traffic stops and give tickets, obtain warrants and arrest suspects, write reports, and testify in court.
Law enforcement officers work for cities, counties, states and the federal government (the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Secret Service, and more).
The daily activities of police and detectives vary depending on their particular specialty, such as special weapons and tactics (SWAT), arson, homicide, missing persons, vice squad, bomb squad, canine unit (K9), narcotics and more.
This is a great career. It’s challenging (no two days are the same), you’ll get a sense of doing good in your community, it’s well paid, and if you have the aptitude and desire, you’ll love your work.
Keep reading to learn what skills and training you need to become a police officer or detective.
SKILLS YOU’LL NEED
Police officers are a tough lot…with a heart of gold. To be a police officer, you’ll need the following personality traits and qualities:
- A desire to serve the community
- A good memory
- You can take and give orders
- You’re fair and reasonable
- You like to be in control
- You’re organized
- You’re practical
- You’re even-keeled
Law enforcement officers love the work they do, and they make a really good living. Salaries* do vary greatly depending on location, years of experience and several other factors. Compare the median salaries of law enforcement agents with other related professions.
Detectives & Investigators
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
*The salary information listed is based on national median salaries, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
There were over 806,000 police and detectives in the U.S. in 2016, the last year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has data. Employment is expected to grow 7 percent through 2026. The BLS predicts that continued interest in public safety will lead to new job openings for police officers. But it also says that some jobs may be competitive, depending on where they are.
Many large police departments are always looking for good men and women to join the force. Check online to see if your local police department is hiring.
There are also job opportunities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, Federal Air Marshals, and the U.S. Border Patrol. Check with each agency to see whether it’s hiring.
Regardless of the law enforcement degree you pursue, there are several things you’ll always study. These all lead to one goal: making you the best law enforcement officer you can be.
These specialized criminal justice degree programs ensure that you understand applicable laws, and can support individuals’ civil rights while also protecting the community you serve.
You’ll learn about the criminal mind, search and seizure, the laws of evidence, and more.
What You'll Study
FBI Degree Program Length
You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to start, then FBI training takes about 800 hours and includes academics, case exercises, firearms, and operational skills. Learn more about FBI training, or read this interview with an FBI special agent.
The most logical degree for you is an associate’s degree in law enforcement. An associate’s only takes two years, so this could be the quickest college education you can get to give you a competitive advantage.
EXPLORE OTHER CAREER POSSIBILITIES
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